In UK: Ethiopian alleges ‘jail for Skype’ to evade deportation

Seeking political asylum has long been considered, among Ethiopians, a guaranteed venue to secure a residence permit in western countries. Thus, asylum seekers bolster their application by listing real or imagined abuses by government officials. This time, however, it has gone a bit too far.

A United Kingdom (UK) news outlet reported about an Ethiopian seeking asylum alleging that he faces a lengthy-jail term for using Skype. reported today that:

A Manchester University student fighting deportation to Ethiopia is claiming he faces a lengthy-jail term for using Skype.

IT student Yidnek Haile, 31, fled his homeland claiming he was being hunted by police for using the software.

The programme – which allows computer users to speak and video conference for free – is banned in the East African state, where there is a state-owned telephone service.

Supporters of the post-graduate student, who came to the UK last December seeking asylum, say he faces a lengthy jail term and physical mistreatment.

But the Home Office say there is no evidence to support his story and are planning to deport him on Thursday.

Yidnek, a former student leader who worked as an IT trainer, has been arrested and beaten for his student politics in Ethopia.

He was arrested at an Internet cafe for showing other people how to use Skype, and faced charges for running an illegal phone service.

His tutor Professor Richard Heeks said the student was living in fear and had not been properly represented in previous hearings

He said: "From what we have been able to glean, it appears that Skype can be illegal if the authorities want it to be. Although it is clear that a number of officials do use it with impunity.

"Yidnek has shown genuine fear when he has talked about what happened. We have absolutely no reason to doubt him.

"The problem is that he has represented himself during asylum hearings. He has not had legal advice and we feel his situation has not bee properly presented to the Home Office."

Since claiming asylum last year, the IT worker was moved to an hostel in Salford, living on £35-a-week food vouchers.

He volunteered with a number of charities and church organisations.

Although asylum seekers are not eligible for any support, Yidnek won a scholarship from Manchester University and received support from a Stockport church, where he was a member.

He was deported last Wednesday, December 14, after reporting to his regular immigration meeting and taken to Morton Hall Immigration centre in Lincolnshire.

His supporters add that government officials and their families use Skype and that the law against using the software is unfair.

They are submitting an appeal to the Home Office citing medical tests which allegedly show evidence of mistreatment by police.

Speaking from detention, the student insisted he was paying the price for using a simple piece of technology.

He said: "I am really distressed and scared by the situation.

"I shouldn’t be sent to a country where I have experience of ill-treatment and abuse because of my use of technologies such as websites and Skype and because of my political opinion and where my life will be in danger."

It is no surprise that the Home Office (equal to an Interior Ministry) didn’t buy the story.

In deed, there a Telecommunication legislation prohibits ‘the use or provision of voice communication or fax services through the internet’. However, the prohibition is intended to protect the commercial interest of the state-owned Ethio-telecom vis a vis illegal operators who provide long-distance calls using Skype or similar software.

Save that, Skype is often used by NGOs and internet cafe users for video-conferencing and chatting, respectively. But that is if the connection is good enough, to begin with.


Daniel Berhane

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